March Gardening Tips
I have a hunch we can sense and scent spring before we see it. Even before the leaf buds start appearing and new shoots start growing there is a wonderful fresh aroma, particularly in the morning and evening, slightly damp but warmer than a few days before and accompanied by a growing crescendo of birdsong. This year, let’s hope that spring is the start of a happier and healthier time for everyone.
In March I think your best choice of garden implements are a sound spade, a trowel and a sharp pair of secateurs – probably the most useful trio of garden tools at any time of year to be honest and the ones worth the investment. Quality tools last a lifetime if you treat them well.
If you have not done so already, do arm yourself with a good pair of secateurs and prune established roses this month. I can do no better than repeat my colleague, and expert plantsman, Jeremy Hall’s advice on pruning. He says ‘Do not prune in the middle of the branch or stem – always look for a good strong healthy bud and make your pruning cut just above it. Always prune to an outward facing bud to avoid new shoots crossing over into the plant. Use a slanted cut that runs away from the bud to prevent moisture running into the bud and spoiling it. Make sure your secateurs or loppers are very sharp, blunt ones will crush the stem you are cutting and the bud may not develop and you may get die back of the branch. Never prune when the weather is cold and frosty as this can lead to frost penetrating the pruning cut and may cause die back.’ This is great advice whatever you are pruning.
If you have ambitions for a fruitful ‘grow your own’ year, many varieties of tomatoes and chillies can be sown now in the greenhouse, on a windowsill or in a conservatory. Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Parsnips, Peas, Radishes and Spinach can be sown outside towards the end of March and then covered with cloches, or a little later in the season you can buy young plants to grow on. You can plant Onion sets and Shallots and put Seed Potatoes in a cool, light position to chit (sprout) for planting later on. Seed potatoes have been very popular this year, and justly so. Your own home grown potatoes taste so much better than anything in the shops. Plant early varieties towards the end of the month. Mulch fruit trees and bushes to keep moisture in and supress weeds. The Rhubarb is emerging with vigour in my garden and I have covered the plants with up-turned buckets to exclude the light and encourage the plants to produce pink shoots. It is working as usual – I have taken a sneaky peak. For an early crop, bring potted Strawberries into the greenhouse, water and feed.
Remember that, tempting though it is, walking on waterlogged lawns and working in sodden borders can do more damage than good, so a spot more armchair gardening may be on the cards until the soil dries out a little. Later in the month it may be time to cut the lawn again. Set the mower blades high to avoid scalping. Rake (scarify) the lawn to get rid of debris, dead grass and moss. This can be a great workout if you do it with enthusiasm. Aerate badly drained areas of the lawn with a hollow tined fork.
Herbaceous plants (cottage garden plants) will start to grow. Fork a general-purpose plant food around them then apply a mulch such as garden compost, composted bark or bark chips to keep the moisture in and the weeds down. Overcrowded clumps can still be divided and replanted, a great way to increase your plant stock for free.
I hope you enjoy March. It is probably the first great outdoor gardening month of the year, and always so full of promise and optimism – something we could all do with right now.